We often turn to our grills for “healthy” food in order to reduce excess fats and oils. But in recent years, there have been so many warnings about barbequed food and carcinogens, in addition to the usual hazards such as undercooked food and backyard fires. 

So here’s the skinny…  Whether a charcoal grill or a gas grill, there are food hazards to be dealt with.  When charcoal is burned, it produces hydrocarbons and soot, which pollute the air and can lead to heart problems and lung issues. Cooking with high heat and creating blackened or charred meat produces heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). PAHs also are found in smoke that results from dripping fat. This then seeps back into the meat. PAHs and HCAs are carcinogens, plain and simple.

So what is the outdoor cooking aficionado to do? With some precautions, you can reduce the risk of ingestion of carcinogens significantly. Start by cooking the food at lower temperatures. Just because you are grilling doesn’t mean you have to see shooting flames. Also, marinating the food cuts the risk down by as much as 90%. Use a marinade that includes olive oil, citrus, and herbs like basil, rosemary, thyme, oregano, or sage, as these antioxidants reduce free radical formation. Don’t let the food char. Grill with aluminum foil by either placing the foil under the food as it cooks, or by wrapping the food in foil and then cooking it.

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A few more safe grilling tips include not reusing your raw meat marinade with the cooked dish. Discard the marinade, or put aside a “clean” batch to use once the meat is done. In weather over 90°F, don’t let food sit out for more than 1 hour. Or precook your meat for a few minutes in the microwave to reduce the fatty juices prior to grilling. Also, keep your grill clean so that bacteria or carcinogens can’t linger.

Reader’s Digest has put together a good compilation that is well worth reading. It can be found at http://www.rd.com/health/healthy-eating/10-guidelines-for-healthier-grilling/.


  1. 10 guidelines for healthier grilling. Reader’s Digest Web site. http://www.rd.com/health/healthy-eating/10-guidelines-for-healthier-grilling/.
  2. Food Safety and Inspection Service. Safe food handling. United States Department of Agriculture Web site. http://www.fsis.usda.gov/factsheets/barbecue_food_safety/.